ISRAELI troops have hit 150 Hamas targets and a network of tunnels in Gaza in the "biggest bombardment yet".
The Israel Defence Force (IDF) said air and ground forces launched a series of attacks last night – dropping 450 missiles on the Gaza Strip in just 40 minutes.
🔵 Read our Israel-Gaza live blog for the very latest updates…
As the conflict escalated, some 160 aircraft were flying simultaneously to conduct a massive attack in Gaza last night.
This 40-minute airstrike was the largest Israeli bombardment since the outbreak of fighting began earlier this week, the military says.
And 9,000 Israeli reserve troops have been called up amid the escalating violence in the region.
Palestinians militants have fired some 1,800 rockets and the military has launched more than 600 airstrikes, toppling at least three apartment blocks.
And on Thursday night, an additional 220 projectiles were fired on Israel from Gaza.
So far 119 Palestinians and eight Israelis have died.
The IDF sparked confusion last night by saying soldiers on the ground had entered the Palestinian enclave – as its fighter jets continued to hit targets belonging to militants.
The force tweeted: "IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip."
TRAGIC DEATH TOLL
Military spokesman Jonathan Conricus added: "There are ground troops attacking in Gaza, together with air forces as well."
But just after 1am, the IDF changed its statement to say no ground troops had crossed into the Gaza Strip.
It added: "Clarification: There are currently no IDF ground troops inside the Gaza Strip.
"IDF air and ground forces are carrying out strikes on targets in the Gaza Strip."
It comes as the death toll in the conflict has reached at least 128 people including dozens of children.
On Thursday, Israel said it was massing troops along the Gaza frontier and calling up 9,000 reservists ahead of a possible ground invasion of the Hamas-ruled territory.
Officials also warned anyone living near the border to seek shelter in bunkers.
What we know so far…
- The IDF dropped some 450 missiles on 150 targets in northern Gaza in a 40-minute attack
- It was the largest Israeli strike since the outbreak of fighting this week – with 160 aircraft flying simultaneously to attack Hamas' network of tunnels
- Israeli tanks, artillery cannons and infantrymen were on the Gaza border conducting accompanying barrages – using 500 artillery shells and 50 tank shells
- The IDF did not enter the Gaza strip, despite earlier claims
- Palestinians militants have fired some 1,800 rockets and the military has launched more than 600 airstrikes
- The death toll has reached nine in Israel, and 119 in Gaza
Nine Israelis have been killed, including one soldier and one child – after the fifth night of fighting.
Egyptian mediators rushed to Israel for cease-fire efforts but showed no signs of progress.
Despite those efforts, the fighting only intensified. Israeli aircraft pummelled targets in Gaza throughout the day.
And late Thursday, Israel fired tank and artillery shells across the border for the first time, sending scores of terrified residents fleeing for safety.
The airstrikes have destroyed scores of buildings, including three high rises.
Israel says the buildings housed Hamas militants or facilities, but civilians were inside as well.
The most intense fighting in seven years between Israel and Gaza's armed groups was triggered by unrest at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem last weekend.
Meanwhile, mob violence in Israel erupted for a fourth night, with Jewish and Arab groups clashing in the flashpoint town of Lod.
The fighting took place despite a bolstered police presence ordered by the nation's leaders.
A late-night barrage of rocket fire from Lebanon that landed in the sea threatened to open a new front along Israel's northern border.
Visiting a missile defence battery, PM Benjamin Netanyahu told troops to be prepared for an extended campaign against Hamas.
He said: “It will take more time, but … we will achieve our goal to restore peace to the state of Israel.”
Netanyahu earlier rejected Hamas calls for a ceasefire and instead warned military action will only "increase in force".
DEATH TOLL CLIMBING
Since Monday, Gaza militants have fired nearly 2,000 rockets into Israel while Netanyahu's forces have responded with hundreds of air strikes.
Several Hamas barrages targeted the seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv, some 45 miles away.
Gaza's Health Ministry said the death toll has climbed to 119 Palestinians, including 27 children, with 600 people wounded.
The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is much higher.
Major airlines including BA have halted flights as rockets continue to fill the sky at night.
What triggered the violence?
Clashes erupted on Friday as Muslims packed the Al-Aqsa mosque to pray during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
Violence had been building in the Holy City and occupied West Bank for the previous week.
Palestinians hurled stones, bottles and fireworks at Israeli police who fire rubber bullets and stun grenades. The site is sacred to Jews as the location of two biblical-era temples.
More than 220 people, mostly Palestinians, were wounded.
On Saturday, prayers at the mosque compound are held peacefully but violence flares elsewhere in east Jerusalem.
Some 121 Palestinians are wounded overnight, many hit by rubber bullets and stun grenades, the Palestinian Red Crescent says.
Israeli police say 17 of its officers are wounded.
Much of the recent unrest stems from the long-running legal effort by Jewish settler groups to evict several Palestinian families from their homes in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
A lower court ruling earlier this year backing the settlers' decades-old claim infuriated Palestinians.
A Supreme Court hearing on a Palestinian appeal had been set for Monday and risked inflaming tensions further.
On Sunday, the justice ministry delays the hearing in light of "the circumstances".
Scuffles between Palestinians and Israeli police in east Jerusalem continue overnight into Sunday.
In the evening, Israeli police again face off against mostly young Palestinians at several locations in east Jerusalem.
Some 331 Palestinians are wounded, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent, in renewed clashes between Palestinians and police at the mosque on Monday ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel's capture of Jerusalem in 1967.
Mr Netanyahu today said he is considering locking people up under controversial "administrative detention" laws to stop further bloodshed.
He said: "We have no choice but to restore law and order via determined use of force.”
The Israeli PM was speaking in Lod, where a Jewish man was stabbed to death after days of rioting.
Yesterday disturbing video showed a mob battering a driver they thought was an Arab in Bat Yam.
Over 370 arrests have been made across the country as street clashes continue between Jewish and Arab citizens.
Israel says its targeted air strikes have "neutralised" half a dozen senior Hamas terrorists behind more than 1,000 rocket attacks since Monday.
In Washington DC, President Joe Biden said he spoke with Mr Netanyahu about calming the fighting but also backed the Israeli leader by saying there has not been a significant overreaction.
Thursday's visit by Egyptian officials marked an important step in the cease-fire efforts.
Egypt often serves as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, and it has been a key player in ending past rounds of fighting.
The officials met first with Hamas leaders in Gaza before holding talks with Israelis in Tel Aviv, two Egyptian intelligence officials said.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Hamas' exiled leader, Ismail Haniyeh, was also in touch with the Egyptians, the group said.
Doctors Without Borders, which is helping treat the wounded on the ground, said the heavy Israeli bombing is "pushing Gaza to the edge of catastrophe".
As the bombardment continued for a fourth day, a ground operations plan has been drawn up ready to be approved by the government.
The IDF said their "marching orders" were to intensify operations despite President Biden and other world leaders calling for peace.
Israel has prepared combat troops along the Gaza border in "various stages of preparing ground operations", a military spokesman said.
Reports previously claimed Hamas has been "stockpiling enough rockets to bomb Israel for two months" – raising fears the region is on the brink of all-out war.
But Palestinian chiefs offered a truce on Wednesday, requesting ceasefire on a "mutual basis" via the Russian foreign ministry.
Yet, it was rebuffed as Israel claimed Hamas has killed seven of its citizens, including a child, in rockets attacks on populated areas.
An Israeli cabinet minister revealed last night after a meeting with Netanyahu: "The campaign is still far from over. Whatever we don't do now, we will have to do in six months or a year from now."
"When we have hit all our targets and the other side has still not surrendered, we will launch a ground operation even though we do not seek it," he told Israeli news site Ynet.
"This will not end in the next few days," the cabinet minister warned.
The UN says it fears the conflict will lead to "full-scale war".
Amid fears the violence could spiral further out of control, Washington planned to send an envoy, Hady Amr, for talks with Israel and Palestinians.
President Biden said he hoped fighting "will be closing down sooner than later".
Hamas militants in Gaza have launched hundreds of rockets since Monday at Israel, which has carried out air strikes on the coastal enclave.
The Iron Dome in Israel – the first missile interceptor of its kind in the world with a 90 per cent success rate at bringing down targets – has intercepted thousands of rockets this week.
The latest flare-up of violence threatens to escalate into an even bloodier conflict like the devastating 50-day war in 2014.
Around 1,500 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israeli cities since hostilities escalated between Hamas and Israel earlier in the week, Israel's army said.
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British Airways cancelled its flights to and from Tel Aviv on Thursday, the latest international carrier to avoid flying to Israel.
"The safety and security of our colleagues and customers is always our top priority, and we continue to monitor the situation closely," BA said.
United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines all cancelled flights between the United States and Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
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